The New Jersey state legislature passed a bill banning child marriage without exception, which would've made New Jersey the first state in the nation to do so. But we'll get to that part, in a bit.
The only thing standing in the way of the bill becoming law was Gov. Chris Christie.
And stand in the way he did:
As reported by The Independent, Christie vetoed the bill, because “it would conflict with religious customs.” In a statement, he said:
“An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions."
It should be noted that the governor didn't identify which religious customs those might be.
Christie “conditionally vetoed” the bill, as described by The Independent, because he believes an exception should be included in legislation that would allow a judge to approve marriages of 16- and 17-year-olds.
This brings us back to the “exception” and “first state in the nation” thing.
Perhaps to the surprise of some, as reported by The New York Times in February 2016, most states allow 16- and 17-year-old to marry, with parental consent.
But here's the really surprising part: several states, including Maryland, New York, and Virginia, allow children under 16 to marry — with the consent of a judge.
It gets worse.
In a February Washington Post op-ed titled “Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States?” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to helping women and girls leave or avoid arranged/forced marriages,” wrote that some states' marriage data includes the category “14 and younger”:
Many of the states that provided data included categories such as “14 and younger,” without specifying exactly how much younger some brides and grooms were.
Thus, the 12-year-olds we found in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina’s data might not have been the youngest children wed in America between 2000 and 2010.
Also, the data we collected did not account for children wed in religious-only ceremonies or taken overseas to be married, situations that we at Unchained often see.
Of Christie's ban, the bill's sponsor, Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, said: “I thought it was a good bill. I thought it was OK to be first in the country on this.”
Regardless of “first in the country,” or last, should the legal age of marriage for a child in America — a nation which prides itself on separation of church and state — be determined by “religious traditions?”
Apparently, Gov. Christie thinks it should.